B.C.’s foremost expert on HIV/AIDS is calling on the federal government to work with the provinces to shape a national strategy that would eliminate all patient costs for treatment and laboratory monitoring.
Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and past-president of the International AIDS Society, sent a letter to the Prime Minister and premiers nationwide Monday morning, urging them to sign the official declaration of the upcoming International AIDS Conference, which is being held in Washington next week.
“If tomorrow there was a pandemic of flu in the country, there would be a national response to it. The public health agency of Canada plays a key role in setting leadership for national programs,” Montaner said.
“There is no effort on the part of the federal government to do anything to control HIV that is of any meaning at the present time. The HIV strategy has no real teeth or substance to it.”
He said B.C. is the only province where treatment and lab monitoring are 100 per cent covered by public health programs, and as a result HIV deaths in the province have dropped by 90 per cent since 1996, and the number of new infections has dropped by 60 per cent.
Everywhere else in the country those numbers have remained stable, he said, or are rising, as in the cases of Newfoundland, Saskatoon, and the District of Ottawa.
He said the stigma of the diseases is already enough that about a third of those in B.C. who know they are infected choose not to seek treatment. He argued that co-payments and deductibles charged in other provinces are a further deterrent for poor and mentally ill patients.
Anti-HIV drugs, known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), can reduce transmission rates by as much as 96 per cent, according to the centre, with the viral load in the body decreasing to almost undetectable amounts.
Montaner’s made-in-B.C. Treatment as Prevention strategy has been adopted by the governments of China, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and in the Bronx, N.Y.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary, Julie Vaux, said her office had no comment on the B.C. program, as the delivery of health care is a provincial responsibility.
“For its part, the federal government is providing record levels of health care funding to the provinces,” she wrote in an email to Metro.
“Canada does its part in fighting the spread of AIDS internationally as well. In September 2010, Canada pledged $540 million to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria and [tuberculosis], bringing Canada’s total commitment since 2002 to more than $1.5 billion ― the largest ever made by Canada to an international health institution.”
The Washington HIV/AIDS conference starts Sunday, and will bring together 25,000 delegates, including AIDS experts and leaders from around the world.